By David Clark Scott, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
THE dream of unity has eluded Latin America for decades.
But as leaders from 21 nations, including Spain and Portugal, gather for the first Ibero-American summit, the reality of integration now appears closer than ever, analysts say.
On July 18 and 19, the heads of state will meet in Guadalajara, Mexico, under the lofty rubric of "Ibero-America in the Third Millennium."
Mexican officials play down the possibility of any bold new initiatives. But the fact that all Latin leaders will sit down at one table has historic significance, Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez noted last week. And the presence of the region's odd-man-out, Cuban President Fidel Castro Ruz, will undoubtedly spice up the occasion.
With the notable exception of Mr. Castro, Latin leaders are now marching to a similar beat. Every nation in the region has at least formally adopted democratic rule. And each is emerging from the debt-induced crisis of the 1980s ready to discard protectionist, state-dominated economic policies in favor of reducing trade barriers and embracing market-oriented reforms. Integration needed
"For perhaps the first time, ... the process of integration forms a real and central part of the national development policies," says Carlos Perez de Castillo, secretary general of the Latin American Economic System (SELA), a 26-nation forum for regional cooperation in Caracas, Venezuela.
The SELA chief sees integration as no longer an option, but an economic necessity in a world of developing trade blocs: "The summit is one more instrument to fortify an irreversible path."
Indeed, regional alliances are being stitched together throughout Latin America.
*-Three months ago, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay agreed to create Mercosur - an ambitious plan for a common market - by 1995. Bolivia is expected to be invited to join the plan during the summit. The United States signed a deal with the group last month to expand trade and investment.
*-On April 2, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela agreed to create a free trade zone by 1994.
*-In January, Mexico and Central American nations decided to form a free-trade zone by 1996.
*-Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia have resuscitated the Andean Pact - a 1960s integration plan - with the goal of lower, common, trade tariffs within five years. Europe sets pace
Trade liberalization and the concept of strength-in-unity has been pushed along by Europe's 1992 common market plan, Mexico's negotiations with the US and Canada for a North American free-trade pact, and US President Bush's one-year-old, "Enterprise for the Americas" plan to reduce debt and create a hemisphere-wide free-trade zone.
The Bush initiative so far has given Latin America little in economic terms, analysts say. "But it is providing a psychological and political boost to those urging more rapid reforms," says Peter Hakim, staff director of Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington, D. …